Over 15 years after two audio cassettes were packed in an envelope and deposited in a safe in the “valuable properties” section of the Mumbai sessions court, they will be taken out and played this month to determine the course of the trial against seven policemen accused of killing nine Muslim men in a bakery during the 1993 communal riots.
The audio cassettes — authorities are yet to check whether they are in working condition — have recordings of wireless messages from 1993 received by the main police control room from areas where the riots occurred. They also include evidence on the chronology of events on January 9, 1993, when the nine men were killed at Suleman Bakery in South Mumbai.
In 2016, defence advocates submitted to the trial court that ten other accused policemen were discharged from the case on various grounds, including alleged discrepancies in the tapes submitted by the prosecution. Seeking the original tapes, their application claimed the case was instituted on the basis of certain wireless messages recorded in the cassettes.
Records show that in April 2003, one of the two tapes — A and B sides — was heard in court in the presence of all parties after which both the cassettes were sealed and kept in a “strong room at 6 pm” on April 9 that year. The records, however, do not show whether the transcripts in the chargesheet were verified by listening and comparing them with audio in the cassettes.
On Thursday, the sessions court said: “If that compliance is not made, it is hereby directed that concerned official of sessions department shall compare contents of aforesaid audio cassettes with transcripts, if any relating to the same in presence of APP (prosecutor), defence counsel and concerned police person of Pydhonie police station, and submit report whether transcript is in line with contents of those audio cassettes….”
An official said police in Pydhonie, where the FIR was registered in 2001, will be responsible for bringing the equipment on which the cassettes can be heard in the court premises.
“As per records, the cassettes were recorded over 25 years ago in 1993 and have been kept in an envelope for the past 15 years. It may have been kept safely but whether or not it is still in working condition will have to be determined since these audio cassettes are old and would require a cool, dust-free environment to be preserved,” said sources linked to the case.
While the alleged incident took place on the premises of the bakery on January 9, 1993, an FIR was registered only in 2001 after witnesses, including workers at the bakery, students and teachers of a nearby madrasa, filed affidavits before the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission that investigated the riots.
Initially, 17 policemen, including the then joint commissioner of police (crime) R D Tyagi, were named in the case. But now, only seven — Kalyanrao Vidhate, Sahebrao Phad, Sudhir Bane, Mohan Bhise, Purshotam Naik, Chandrakant Mohite and Ramakant Motling — are facing trial on various charges, including murder.
The others, including Tyagi, were discharged by the trial court, which observed that there was no evidence against them. The discharge was upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
The Srikrishna Commission, however, had observed that the log book entry of the control room “further obfuscates the picture”. It said that the exchange of conversation between Tyagi and the control room “does not indicate any sense of urgency”.
The exchange recorded in wireless messages pertaining to this incident is from 12.31 pm to about 1.49 pm that day. At one point, a message from Pydhonie states: “Public is firing on the police from Suleman Bakery, Minara Masjid”, and that four persons were injured. The Commission said that while the messages show that four were injured, their statements were not taken.
In their defence, the policemen had claimed that they had opened fire in response to firing from within the bakery and had taken 78 persons in custody, while nine had died. The Commission, however, had called the policemen “utterly trigger-happy”, and said that they were “very much influenced by the floating and exaggerated rumours of attacks from sophisticated firearms and consequent fear psychosis which caused them to shoot to kill”.
Over two months ago, the trial court had directed that witnesses be summoned in the case. But then, the accused filed a plea stating that the examination should not take place unless documents relied upon by the prosecution are not supplied. The court has directed a compliance report to be submitted on November 21.